Holy Week is an apprenticeship in Christian life. Perhaps no other time during the year offers so much richness for reflection on the mysteries of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Take Maundy Thursday, that night when Jesus was betrayed. He’s gathered his closest disciples to him in the upper room, and Jesus gives them the commands to wash feet and break bread and love one another. He doesn’t just give; he demonstrates. Jesus girds himself up with a towel and kneels down to wash their feet–not as master but as servant. He turns their expectations upside down. The greatest among you will be a servant. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. “If you know these things,” says Jesus in the Gospel of John, “you are blessed if you do them” (13:17).
What things? Washing feet, certainly, no doubt a literal command–something we do well to take seriously and obey, at least once a year. But more than a single act, it’s a way of life. This is why Jesus says, after washing their feet, “Do you know what I have done to you?” (13:12). They can see the towel and the water and the basin. Sure they know what he has done. He has washed their feet like a common servant. But more than that, Jesus has pulled the wet levers on a cruciform perpetual motion machine, a radiating life self-propagating across time and space as people turn toward Jesus. It’s the body of Christ writ humanity-large, and it starts right there in that upper room. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.Jesus created a whole new culture in his words and acts, calling us serve–each other, others, God–in that upper room. We’re brought in on the commands of Maundy Thursday, just as the disciples. But more than that, through Maundy Thursday we’re apprenticed in the way of Jesus, a way of following that leads to the good, beautiful, and abundant life. It’s giving up and laying down as a way of walking into the fullness of life in Christ.
This way that Jesus demonstrated, a way enacted in washing feet and projected out into a whole life, fundamentally reorders and revalues our lives. Our identity is no longer grounded in what we can get or achieve, but in the love of God. Here’s the blessed life, Jesus is saying. It turns out that the blessed life is not about having it all or being the greatest. It’s about becoming the kind of person who can stoop to wash feet.